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Pith and Treacle 

Yawning along with 'Bucket,' enjoying 'I'm Not There' more than most

Previews

I can't think of a better couple to buy meat pies from than Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, particularly when the main ingredient isn't exactly legal. Opening Friday, Jan. 18, is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim from an 1840s serialized story. Directed by Tim Burton, the film tells the story of a Victorian era barber who gets revenge in a grisly fashion. On stage, the violence is handled symbolically. I'm guessing the film is more graphic. Here's your chance to hear Depp sing. Rated R for graphic bloody violence. 120 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

After getting pregnant by a guy who isn't exactly a hunk in Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl now plays a woman who is always a bridesmaid, never a bride in 27 Dresses. In this romantic comedy, Heigl is Jane, who helps plan her sister's wedding to a man she secretly loves. But wait, there may be another prospect on the horizon. Rated PG-13 for language, some innuendo and sexuality. 117 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

When five friends throw a going-away party, I bet they didn't count on a skyscraper-size monster attacking New York. But had they checked out the film genre first, they might have had a clue what was ahead in the sci-fi thriller Cloverfield. Luckily or unluckily for us, they have a video camera. From TV writer/director Matt Reeves (Felicity). Rated PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images. 100 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Diane Keaton, Ted Danson, Katie Holmes and Queen Latifah star in the comic caper Mad Money. Directed by Callie Khouri (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood), the story is about three female employees of the Federal Reserve who try to steal money that is supposed to be destroyed. Waste not, want not. Rated PG-13 for sexual material and language and brief drug references. 114 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

Wynston Jones hosts the third in the "Films of Bette Davis" Eureka Library series: The Petrified Forest, based on the play by Robert Sherwood. Co-starring Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart (in a key early role), the 1936 film follows the interactions of a waitress, a bank robber and a traveler at a remote desert diner. The free presentation begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22, in the Main Branch meeting room. Call 269-1905 for more information.

Reviews

THE BUCKET LIST: I'll admit up front that I went to this film with very negative expectations. I was already writing phrases like "brain-dead geezer film" in my head, and I expected to observe that the film was made simply to allow two aging veteran actors to pick up a paycheck and phone in their performances.

As it turns out, The Bucket List isn't that bad, although it is a slight, mostly forgettable film. Jack Nicholson's recent films have been a mixed experience, from the awful Anger Management to the more effective About Schmidt and The Departed. Morgan Freeman has fared only marginally better with the ridiculous Evan Almighty to the very good Gone Baby Gone. Am I trying to avoid discussing the present film? Probably.

Nicholson is the wealthy businessman Edward Cole and Freeman the auto mechanic Carter Chambers, and they both find themselves in the same room as cancer patients in one of Cole's hospitals. As they get to know each other, they make a "bucket list" of things to accomplish before they kick it. As Cole is rich, he can make it happen, and the film becomes a geezer buddy road film. Of course, the real goal is for Carter to rediscover his love for his wife Virginia (TV actress Beverly Todd) and for Edward to reconcile with his daughter. Most viewers can probably guess what the very sappy ending has in store. Nicholson and Freeman are a cut above phone-in, and there are a few nice scenes, but in the end this is just another mediocre feel-good film. Rated PG-13 for language, including a sexual reference. 107 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

ATONEMENT: Based on the fine Booker short-listed novel by Ian McEwan and prettily directed by Joe Wright (2005's Pride and Prejudice), Atonement examines what happens to the lives of two young lovers as a result of a lie told by the younger sister of the woman, and the effect of the lie on the young girl.

As the story begins, the wealthy Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) and the housekeeper's son, Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), are stumbling toward romance. Cecilia's 13-year-old sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan), an aspiring writer, has confusing feelings toward Robbie herself and her self-absorption and lack of emotional maturity leads her to identify Robbie as her cousin Lola's (June Temple) attacker. As a result, Robbie is jailed, eventually becoming a soldier to escape prison. Subsequent parts of the story show us Robbie serving in France in 1940 and Cecilia being a nurse in London; Cecilia confronting her now grown-up sister (Romola Garai), who promises to tell the family the truth; and a flash forward to 1999 when Briony, a successful author, is being interviewed on the occasion of the publication of her final novel, titled Atonement.

Atonement is not a bad film. The performances are solid and Knightley, as she did in Pride and Prejudice, looks gorgeous in period dress. The adaptation is faithful to the book's narrative. But the film is too tame, like those endless literary adaptations by Merchant and Ivory. It elicits polite applause but little gut reaction (unlike the novel). The story's ending does raise the interesting point that fiction can be both atonement and a complete lie. Unlike No Country for Old Men, though, this film never translates the novel's essence, just its surface. Rated R for disturbing war images, language and some sexuality. 140 m. At the Broadway.

I'M NOT THERE: I can see how the innovative biopic I'm Not There has, like Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, provoked such opposite reactions. Praised highly by some, it was relegated to one of the 10 worst films of 2007 by a San Francisco Chronicle film critic. As for me, it may not make my Top 10 list, but I appreciated seeing director and screenwriter Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven) make something interesting out of the usually deadly biography film genre.

Having said that, I do wonder what someone who does not already know something of Dylan's life might make of this imaginative recreation of Dylan's various personas. The film touches on the major stages of Dylan's life and career: his early folk days, his protest stage, his controversial conversion to amplified music, his personal life and his born-again phase, to mention some of the aspects of Dylan the film depicts in its peculiar way.

The various identities of Dylan are portrayed by different actors, none of whom are called Dylan. These include Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere and Cate Blanchett, with Kris Kristofferson as a voice-over narrator. While the film is more or less chronological, images from various periods of Dylan's life are often intermixed.

As usual, Blanchett is bizarrely wonderful, and I also particularly enjoyed the performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg (The Science of Sleep) as Claire, who bears the Ledger Dylan persona two children and finally leaves him. I found the film mostly entertaining, but it also allowed me to free associate. Among my thoughts was that the only possible salvation for George W. Bush is to have Blanchett impersonate him. Rated R for language, some sexuality and nudity. 125 m. At the Minor.

THE KITE RUNNER: Unlike Atonement, I have not read Khaled Hosseini's popular 2003 novel despite enthusiastic recommendations from friends and the fact that it was the book of the year at HSU and CR. From what I can tell from plot summaries, though, the film appears to be faithful to the novel in terms of its narrative.

The film begins in the Bay Area in 2001 as the story's protagonist Amir (Khalid Abdalla, United 93) receives copies of his just published book. After getting a phone call from an old friend of his father's who lives in Pakistan, the film embarks on a long flashback beginning in Kabul with the 12-year-old Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi), his childhood friend Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), son of the family servant, and Amir's father.

The inciting incident occurs after Amir witnesses his friend's rape at the hands of older boys. Instead of trying to help, he flees and then tells a lie about Hassan that uproots Hassan's life, much like the situation in Atonement.

When the Russians attack Afghanistan, Amir and his father escape to America where we take up the story as Amir graduates from a community college, until we reach the point where the film began and Amir goes off to Pakistan to "make good" on his earlier failures, only to discover a further truth that had been hidden by another lie. Atonement in this story is achieved in a much different manner than that in McEwan's story.

Director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball; Stranger Than Fiction) keeps the film in low-key mode, developing the story with deliberate care. I can't speak for the many readers of the novel, but I found the film to be effective and affecting. In English and several other languages including Urdu, with English subtitles. Rated PG-13 for strong thematic material including the rape of a child, violence and brief strong language. 135 m. At the Minor.

Continuing

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS.Based on the 1950s cartoon series about chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore, who sing in three-part harmony. Rated PG. 91 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR.Charlie Wilson, a bachelor/playboy Texas congressman living it up in the 1980s, fights an uphill battle to support Afghan rebels battling Russians. Rated R. 102 m. At The Movies.

ENCHANTED.A fairytale princess changes her views on life and love after being thrust into present-day New York City by an evil queen. Rated PG. 108 m. At The Movies.

FIRST SUNDAY. Two petty criminals plot to rob a neighborhood church, and end up dealing with the Lord, much more than they bargained for. Rated PG-13. 98 m. At The Movies.

GOLDEN COMPASS.A young girl's epic quest set in a world where people's souls manifest themselves as animals, talking bears fight wars and Gyptians and witches coexist. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At The Movies.

GREAT DEBATERS.A brilliant, but volatile debate team coach at an all-black college in the Jim Crow South era molds a group of underdog students into an elite debate team. Rated PG-13. 127 m. At the Minor.

I AM LEGEND.Robert Neville, a brilliant scientist, is the one man left alive after a terrible, manmade virus sweeps New York City, but he is not alone. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At the Broadway.

IN THE NAME OF THE KING.Epic tale of knights, kings, great courage, noble causes, magic and adventure based on the video game Dungeon Siege. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At the Broadway.

JUNO.An intelligent teen, Juno, deals with the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy by seeking out the perfect set of parents to adopt her unborn child. Rated PG-13. 96 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS.A man, Ben, follows an international chain of clues to prove his great-grandfather's innocence when a page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth surfaces implicating Ben's ancestor in Abraham Lincoln's death. Rated PG. 124 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.Coen Brothers' adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy touches on themes as varied as the Bible and this morning's headlines. Rated R. 123 m. At The Movies and the Minor.

ONE MISSED CALL.Beth, traumatized by the deaths of two friends, freaks when she learns those friends had received chilling cell phone recordings of their last moments. Rated PG-13. 88 m. At The Movies.

PIRATES WHO DON'T DO ANYTHING: A VEGGIE TALES MOVIE.Animated veggie pals rescue a royal family from an evil tyrant and themselves from living the life of common couch potatoes. Rated G. 85 m. At The Movies.

P.S. I LOVE YOU.A beautiful, smart woman loses the love of her life and then clings to his letters he wrote to help guide her through both her grief and her new future. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway.

WATER HORSE: LEGEND OF THE DEEP.A young boy finds an enchanted egg, which holds the amazing, mythical creature of Scottish lore, the "water horse." Rated PG. 112 m. At The Movies.

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